Time flies…

…when you’re having fun. Or so the saying goes. Yes, looking back at fun times, they always seem to have past too quickly. But when I am in the middle of something fun, I don’t particularly feel that way. I am in the moment, and the moment is infinitely long. This is why I can remember endless summers of strolling past a nearby stream, making huts with the long grass and climbing trees. Endless, because when you are in this moment of fun, time does not fly. It rather seems to still, allowing you all the time to savour the experience. And the same thing happens to me in ritual, dancing under a full moon or meditating with a candle. These experiences, where time seems to slow and stretch, are priceless.

My goal for 2015 is to purposely try and search these experiences, even though many will just have to arise. I want to plan a day at the beach, go to a sport event, go to the Red Tent for the first time (this Friday, I’m really curious!). And I will start with a mindfulness course this Saturday, which will hopefully also teach me to live in the moment and prolong good experiences. I believe it will make my life even more valuable to me.

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My job: making tough decisions

Sometimes you have to make decisions that you’d rather not have to make. Unfortunately, that is part of my job (which I otherwise love). My volunteer job, that is, and it sucks to have people hate you (yes, I’m exaggerating) for something you volunteer to do.

I don’t know how the youth sport system is in your countries. I know that many countries have a school sport system where, if I can believe Ned’s Survival Guide on Nickelodeon, children either make the team or they don’t. We have a different system in the Netherlands. Similar to how you can be a member of a gym, you can become member of a sports club. It’s a volunteer organisation, so people contribute not only money, but also time to, for example, stand behind the counter, drive children to away games or to train other people. My job? I’m in the technical committee, so I’m in charge of the trainers, educating and coaching them and when the season is about to end, make decisions about which children are the best and which ones are mediochre.

That in itself is not so tough, though sometimes you doubt who is best because you haven’t seen children play together. Much tougher is handling the responses of both parents and children concerning their placement in certain teams. People feel they are better than others and should be placed in higher teams. Children would like to play with their friends. There are too many children in the team, there are too few children in the team… The list goes on.

The paradox in having to make such decisions is this: you can never please everyone. There is no way to satisfy all people and to uphold the goal of going for the highest overall level possible at the same time. So we don’t. Of course we try to accomodate somewhat, and people have the opportunity to tell us their preferences (playing with specific people, for example) up front, but the reality is that there’ll always be disappointed children and parents. As long as we support what we have chosen as a collective and have made these choices as fairly as possible, we have done the best we can.

It’s a tough job. Think you can do better? You’re welcome to try 🙂

Reducing plastic waste

One of my goals for 2014 is to reduce my waste, which is a VERY big project so I’m taking baby steps. I read an article about someone from my university, who went completely plastic-free, cold turkey, for a month. That’s so hard! Though probably only at the beginning, because after a while you know where to find things or how to do things, and it will be no trouble. And hopefully, not too expensive either (I have the idea that going plastic-free will mean higher costs… which perhaps is weird because you also pay for packaging of food… anyway). But, like I said, I’m taking baby steps (and using the plastic I still have in my house, because if I’m going to throw it away, I might as well first use it.

Why do I want to reduce my plastic waste? Several reasons, actually! First of all: environmental reasons. Plastic is extremely slow to degrade, and lots of it ends up in the ocean, endangering the wildlife there (let alone the sight of it…). The ocean currents collect this plastic waste, making islands of them. This YouTube short documentary from National Geographic illustrates what happens and also what people try to do to make others aware of it!

My second major reason to want to reduce plastic, especially around food and drink, is that some plastic types give of substances that are bad for your health. Not all of them, because they would never be allowed to sell food in plastic if it was that dangerous, but some do. Heating the plastic is even worse (microwaving your meals in plastic bags or containers…), so that is not preferable. I don’t want toxins in my food and drinks! But let’s be honest, food also looks way less attractive in plastic. So many reasons not to use plastic anymore, or at least reducing plastic waste!

What could you do? I started with 2 simple things: just drink tap water from a reusable bottle and stop buying bottled water. And stop using/accepting plastic grocery bags. In the mindmap of Learning Fundamentals that they published during Plastic Free July (no, I had never heard of that) last year, there are other suggestions on what you might do!

Deplastify your lifeI am saving the glass jars some of my food comes in for future storage (which I like way better than the plastic bags, once again), and I will upcycle some old tank tops into bags for fruits and veggies. Pinterest holds many more ideas to reducing plastic, on all fronts. And if we stop using it, hopefully many of us, production will lessen (because, despite the tons of wasted plastic in the ocean, new plastic is still produced) and we might stop poisoning ourselves and the environment. That’s a good thing! Are you in?

Natural homeopathic medicine?

With the holidays, there are all sorts of things to win on Facebook and Twitter. And I love competing, especially if I have to write poems for it! Last week, I competed to win a small box of VSM stuff. Let me explain: VSM is a brand of homeopathic medicine very popular in the Netherlands. Ever since I was a little girl, sore muscles in our family were treated with Spiroflor jelly, their homeopathic solution. It smells awful, as it should, but is oddly comforting and always appears to help.

So, after waiting for a week, I got the message that, yay (!), I won the gift box. I received it yesterday afternoon, together with a load of holiday candy (which was all gone by 6 am, you can surely understand). In it was a new type of Spiroflor that becomes warm when you put it on your skin, and a Nisyleen throat-spray for when you have a sore throat. Two conditions I suffer quite frequently. So I was very happy!

I’ve always liked Spiroflor, and in my opinion, the VSM products are fine, but when I visited the website today, I discovered that it is all advertised as natural homeopathic medicine. Which is when I decided to take a look at the ingredients. Per 100 grams of jelly, Spiroflor contains 6 grams of Bellis perennis extract (also known as daisy), 2 grams of Spiraea ulmaria extract (meadowsweet) and 10 grams of Arnica montana extract… that’s 18/100 grams of actual working extracts! Some of the other ingredients are naturally necessary for a jelly, such as paraffin and water, but what on earth do these extra ingredients do?
perfume (seriously, why perfume),
methyl nicotinate (which will probably reduce pain, but does not sound very natural),
ascorbic acid and methylparaben (conservatives),
eugenol (something with scent, again),
limonene (fragrant oil from lemon rind, so scent again… but you might also know it from cleaning products),
disodium EDTA (…no clue),
and, finally, linalool (you’d never guess, smell again).

You can see that I am researching as I am writing: perhaps it is all the additives that give Spiroflor such a strange scent. But seriously, how much of this is really natural? I know I’m not allergic to any of the ingredients and that I like the effect, so I’ll continue to use it, but can they really advertise it as natural? Perhaps, considering their working ingredients are from nature.

I would like some alternative, though. A couple of years ago I watched a series with James Wong, an ethnobotanist, who also knew of the compounds in all types of plants and trees, and used that knowledge to make medicine and cosmetics. Loved the series, and it seems so incredibly simple! So perhaps, when I’ve run out of Spiroflor, I’ll try to make my own muscle balm. Daisies and meadowsweet shouldn’t be that hard to find, should they? 😉

Healthy snacks – Apple crisps

Yes, we all know that if you snack, it’s probably better to eat fruit or crackers than cookies or chocolate. But that’s just so tempting! I really enjoy apples and feel like I’m very healthy when I eat an apple, but chocolate… Hey, I’m a woman, we all love chocolate!  Yet, eating apples instead of candy bars has huge benefits. Lower calories, lower fat, higher water and fibre content… It’s not that apples contain that many more nutrients, but that they contain less ‘bad stuff’. Which is why “an apple a day keeps the doctor away”, especially if you eat it instead of snacks rich in saturated fat and sugar.

Sometimes, however, you’ll want something else. A plain apple doesn’t always feel like a snack when you’re watching television. A bowl of sugar-coated popcorn or crisps, those are snacks you enjoy in front of the TV. They taste nice and it’s something you can keep grabbing, mindlessly, often. Cutting an apple into pieces might solve part of this by making it grabbable (that’s probably not a word…), but I found a recipe on Beginspiration, a Dutch cooking blog, that has even more potential as an evening snack. Healthy and extremely simple to make, though you have to wait a while before they’re done: apple crisps! Small, crispy apple slices, spiced with cinnamon and lemon. They taste great (though you need to find a good balance in lemon juice and cinnamon), and make your home smell winter-y. Plus point: it’s a snack children can easily help making. So let me present you with this extremely simple recipe for lovely apple crisps!

Preheat the oven to 100 degrees centigrade and line a plate with a sheet of baking paper. Take as many rinsed apples as you like (with 2 decent-sized apples you can fill the plate), a spoonful of lemon juice per apple and as much cinnamon as you like. Take out the apple core and cut the apples into round or semi-circled slices (you can use a simple knife, then semi-circles are probably safer, a mandolin or other aid you might have). Toss round the apples with the lemon juice and the cinnamon, making sure all slices have at least some cinnamon on them. Then put them in the oven until they are crisp (about 2 – 2.5 hours). If you cool them and put them in an airtight container, you can keep them for about 3 days, then they go soft.

It really is that easy! I tried them a few days ago and ate the last crisps yesterday afternoon (my container apparently wasn’t completely airtight, so they had gone a bit soft 😦 ). Admittedly, it tasted a bit weird at first, perhaps because I had put in a bit too much cinnamon and lemon juice. But I found that despite that, I kept taking new ones… Fairly addictive, comparable to salted crisps or other snacks, but way healthier, so definitely something you should try! Thanks for the wonderful recipe, Ianna!

Dieting vs healthy food choice

Many people who want to lose weight try to stick to a diet. This involves restricting your intake, sometimes quite rigorously such as with shake-based diets. Many of these people start out with good intentions, obviously, but find that once they start eating normal again, they put on the weight they have lost and sometimes even more! This jojo effect is because your body metabolism is effectively altered when you restrict your intake. Especially when you limit your calorie intake rigorously, your body gets used to that and starts to save energy. That means it wants to store the energy you take in, because apparently there are difficult times where you have hunger, but you need power for your daily activities. If you go into this saving mode, eating regularly will cause you to put on weight faster, simply because your body wants to store that energy in case there are times of hunger coming again.

In my opinion, restricting diets make no sense as you deprive your body not only of energy but also of nutrients you need to stay healthy. What works better is to simply choose to eat healthier, not less per se. It is not about restricting your intake, but about changing your intake. Yes, it will take longer, because it involves a change in lifestyle, permanently, and permanent change is difficult. You will not see results right away, but what you lose will stay off, so don’t be discouraged! Mrs Healthy Ever After has taken up this challenge when she got married, and it’s paying off, so check out what she thinks 😉

There are so many things you can change! What my husband and I really need to do is limit our intake of chocolate, changing it to healthier snacks of fruit (which I can do, but my husband is more reluctant and, admittedly, I LOVE chocolate, so it’s not that easy for me either). When you get the munchies, often you are not really hungry, you don’t need food technically speaking. It is just that you like the taste or that, as some have argued more recently, that you are addicted to sugar as you can get addicted to alcohol and drugs.

Some things advocated by most dietitians:
Eat lots of veggies! In the Netherlands, it is advised to eat 200-250 grams of veggies per day and really, it fills more per calorie you take in than meats. Because it is quite a lot to eat during one meal, you could spread it and eat some veggies at lunch too (lettuce and bell pepper on your sandwich, a salad with veggies etc.) or snack with carrots, cucumber or tomatoes.
Vary what you eat! Different foods contain different nutrients, and your body needs all. Healthy choices are low in saturated fats and salt (which you can find on the label with nutritional information). And a very simple rule for vegetables: different colour vegetables contain different nutrients, so you can easily vary with differently coloured veggies.

Apart from this, I really prefer home cooking. Making meals from scratch doesn’t have to take that much longer than preparing pre-packaged food, and it’s often healthier. And tastes better! You can make lovely dinners and lunch at home, and feel better eating it, perhaps also because you put in more effort to make it. Remember how everyone says ‘made with love’ and how you can taste that? Well, it’s true! So do try it out. You can expand that and make things for your store cupboard as well. Jams, pesto, hazelnut spread and snacks are easily made. I always watch Mind over Munch (fighting the munchies when I see that delicious food prepared), which demonstrated how you can prepare guilt-free food that tastes great.

So in my opinion it’s way better to make healthy choices related to food, based on you personally, rather that following restricting diets. But don’t toss away the books: there are often very nice recipes in them. Just that (IMO) you shouldn’t follow diets doesn’t mean they are completely useless. Perhaps combining recipes from all the different diets out there also constitutes a healthy food pattern.

Sifting through cooking magazines during Mabon

Today, I celebrated Mabon, the autumn equinox. The days are clearly shortening and the weather is markably changing. Actually, today was the first day without rain in at least two weeks. Mould was seriously beginning to develop, cause there wasn’t enough time for things to dry.

Mabon, for me, is mainly about counting your blessings, looking at the harvest of the year and giving thanks. Obviously, I got married this year and feel blessed with my wonderful husband. Which newlywed wouldn’t feel that way! My dad is changing his drinking habits, and this is really improving his relation with my little brother, who still lives at home. It had been going worse and worse with them.
My dad has a girlfriend, and my brother doesn’t like her. Dad stays at her place during the weekend and seems to want to move there… Add to that financial problems and the drinking, and you van understand why my dad and brother were (verbally) fighting constantly. I’m so grateful this isn’t happening that much anymore 😀 And though I still worry about my dad’s health (he’s so skinny I’m almost afraid to break something when hugging him), I know he’s changing his drinking.

Of course there are many other things I count amongst my blessings, but these are most prominent.

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Mabon is also associated with the harvest. Yes, this is both actual and spiritual, but my mind immediately goes FOOD! Lovely, hearthy, earthy dishes using the products of mother Earth. This week, I’ll probably eat beans once, since, yay, I can harvest some beans I’ve grown indoors. Probably about 5 to 10 actual beans… But hey, I’ve grown them myself 😉 I don’t have any pumpkins yet, so I think I might have done something wrong, probably something with watering. My green fingers are not that green.

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Well, then I can better just cook. I really want to try out new things, and I’m dying to finally try out pumpkin. Where to find new recipes? I usually find them in magazines about cooking. The grocery stores have free magazines, and I’ve collected so much and barely ever used them.  So my Mabon activity really consists of sifting through the magazines and cutting out recipes I like. I’ll sort them and make a special cook book pasting them in. Then I’ll make little cards with the names and we’ll draw a new one every week. Really, it’s a very simple way to plan meals and plan in new things. When I’m done, I’ll post what my new cookbook looks like!

So this is what I did at Mabon. What did you do?

What to do with bananas gone black

Yay, lovely sweet bananas! I usually get a whole bunch of them, hoping my husband will be tempted to eat some fruit. Without any results of course. And because I don’t like bananas every day, I’m left with several that keep getting blacker and so sweet I don’t like them anymore. But throwing them away would be a shame!

So last week, with the two blackened bananas left in the fruit basket and things I always have in store, I made banana and chocolate cake. It was wonderfully sweet with a fruity tang, still a bit moist but with a crunch. My entire workgroup enjoyed helping me eat it (cause otherwise my husband and I would’ve eaten it ourselves… completely).

If you have bananas left, search online for a nice recipe, or just try this!

Ingredients:

Ripe bananas (I used two)
Self-raising flour
175 grams of sugar
Milk
1 egg
6 tablespoons of cacao powder
Optional: chopped hazelnuts and chopped chocolate

The procedure is simple. Preheat the oven to 175 degrees centigrade and oil a cake baking tray. Lining the bottom with baking paper makes it easier to get the cake out in the end. Mash the bananas and mix in the sugar, the cacao powder and the egg. Then add self-raising flour until the mixture is sticky but not too wet anymore. If you put in too much, correct with some milk. Mix in the hazelnuts and chocolate if you like. Put the mixture in the baking tray and bake for about 50 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean.

Don’t forget to let it cool at least a bit! And enjoy, of course 🙂

Don’t be afraid to show it

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?” 

This quote from Marianne Williamson‘s A Return to Love, though it is also attributed to Nelson Mandela (and is not complete), is my mantra when it comes to sports. It hangs on the wall of the living room and when I feel insecure, I repeat it to myself.  It helps me to let go of tension and realize that every time again, I can play my very best, not holding back or worrying about how I come across to others.

That’s exactly what this is about. Related to sports, mediocrity is common in the Netherlands. If you try to stand out individually, or even as a team, you are shot down (though luckily this is slowly changing). Some people choose to do less than they are capable off, to prevent people from shooting them down. They are not afraid of not making it internationally, no, they are afraid to show what they can do.

Don’t hold yourself back. You are capable of so much more than you show and even than you think. If you put your mind to it, the sky is the limit. So don’t be afraid to show it!

Fun activities on a day in the park

Going to a park is very fun as it is, but there are some things you could do to make it even more entertaining. Very simple is picknicking, just take some food and drink and go sit in the grass (or on a mat or rug) and enjoy! Something children especially like (though as an adult I love it as well) is a petting zoo. Being able to touch animals, interact with them and perhaps even feeding them is a wonderful experience. You can also make it an educational trip, learning about animals or learning about different plants that grow in the region. In fall, you might be able to collect acorns and chestnuts (picking plants is often not allowed, so be wary of that).

What I like most, though, and what I did today, is the picknicking and talking with my friends. Enjoying eachothers company and the weather and observing the various other people in the park.

What do you enjoy most when going to a park?